State of Minnesota v. David John Sundrum. MN criminal law, consent search
On March 31, 2011, a Golden Valley, MN, police officer got a report of a car blocking an intersection. An apparently intoxicated person had been seen walking away from the vehicle. When the officer arrived, he found the car abandoned with damage to the front wheel. The officer checked the registration and learned that the vehicle was registered to David John Sundrum, who lived about three blocks away.
The officer went to that address and knocked on the door, and Sunrum's father answered. The father, whom the officer described as very cooperative, said that he didn't think his son was at home. The officer asked the father to check, and the father agreed. The father later testified that he told the officer to "wait here," but the court never made a definitive finding on whether those words were said.
The father walked down a flight of stairs to check on his son. As the father walked away, the officer stepped into the house to wait. The father found the son, told him that the police were there, and both the father and son returned upstairs. They questioned Sundrum, and he admitted that he had been driving the car. He also smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot and watery eyes, and was leaning against a door to steady himself. Sundrum then failed field sobriety tests, and the officers administered a breath test. They then arrested him and transported him to the police department, where he provided a urine sample showing an alcohol concentration of .19. He was convicted, and appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. On appeal, he argued that the evidence obtained in his home should have been suppressed as the result of an illegal entry by police.
The prosecution conceded that there was no express consent for the officers to come in. But the officer testified that he thought the father consented by the way he was acting. The trial court agreed that there had been non-verbal consent.
The officer testified that the father was cooperative and cordial, that it was winter out, and there was snow on the ground. The Court of Appeals held that these factors were insufficient to show consent. The court noted that one can be very cordial and cooperative but still not invite the police inside.
The Court also rejected the idea that it was the officer's common practice to step inside in this kind of situation. They noted that the fact that other people might not have objected does not give rise to consent.
Finally, it being winter and snow on the ground was deemed insufficient. The Court noted that it was the end of March, and there was no evidence that the weather was so extreme that anyone would invite the officer inside to avoid "extreme discomfort or unhealthy danger."
The prosecution cited some earlier cases in which courts had found implied consent. But the Court of Appeals pointed out the significant differences between those cases and the one before them.
Since the conviction was based on the evidence gained, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and sent the case back to the Hennepin County District Court.
No. A13-0506 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 10, 2014).
Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.
Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).
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